On October 26th 2001, President George W. Bush of United States of America signed one of the most controversial Acts of Congress that came to be known as the U. S. A Patriot Act or what is commonly known as the “Patriot” Act. The Act came into being after America experienced one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in its history on September 11of 2001, the act was enacted to protect America and its citizens. The name of the Act is an acronym standing for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001(PATRIOT ACT 2001).
(John McKay) With this act the authority of the U. S law enforcement experts were expanded to enable the fight and arrest of terrorism both in the U. S and across the globe. The ability of the agencies of law enforcement was increased to an extent that they could intrude into the privacy of individuals where necessary. Such intrusion includes searching of private conversation on telephones, tapping of Internet communication, searching of finacial medical and other related records. (John McKay)
The Act also expanded the scope and authority of the Secretary of the treasury to be able to regulate financial transactions especially of foreigners and also the ability of the law enforcement agencies to detain and deport immigrants who are suspected of acts of terrorism. In this Act also the definition of terrorism was also expanded to include “domestic terrorism” thereby expanding the powers of the law enforcement agencies including the number of activities they could handle. (John McKay)
In a nutshell therefore, the Patriotic Act was an act that gave the government the ability to utilize its law enforcement machinery to counter any form of terrorism within and without the American territory. The Act had the full backing of both houses of congress. (John McKay) However the act has continued to generate a lot of controversies and has met stiff resistance from various quarters. Most opponents have continued to point out the weakening of Civil Liberties Protections. Also it has been criticized for its authority to allow the detention of immigrants for indefinite periods.
It has also been widely viewed as an act that allows law enforcement agencies to intrude in other peoples lives including searching of business and private premises without the authority of the owner, tapping of telephone conversations and internet communication. For this reasons the act has encountered several legal hurdles, where the federal courts have ruled against certain provisions in the Act as unconstitutional. (Kevin V. R) There has been varied debate whether the Act is for the good of all American citizens or not.
This paper is going to discuss some of the advantages the Act has on the security not only of the citizens of the United States but the whole world as well. It is worthwhile to note that since the enactment of the Act, there have been 212 convictions of the 395 charges, a whooping 53% conviction. This means that many charges of terrorism are indeed factual and are worth the investigation efforts. Often the critics of this Act have failed to recognize that the act is a very effective and powerful tool in the fight against terrorism, rather than an act with the sole purpose of undermining the liberty of the American citizens.
Thus the act in a way was designed to protect and preserve civil liberty rather than undermine it. (Lamar S) The law also in a big way strengthened the powers of the government and the law enforcement agencies to conduct better surveillance activities, thereby enabling the various arms of the law to be able to share intelligence information that is important in trying to forestall the various acts of terrorism. The Act therefore streamlines the communication between the various agencies and enables them to work together to investigate and stop terrorist activities.
(John McKay) Many of the tools that the act avails to the law enforcement agencies to counter terrorism are the same tools that have been used over the years to fight such crimes as drug trafficking and other forms of organized crimes. Therefore the Act is not a new law but it applies the existing laws to the terrorism crimes that may include the use of weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons use and the killing of innocent lives and the financing of terrorism activities. (Kevin V. R) The critics point out that the government would use the Act to spy on library habits.
This is not true because the act applies to foreign terrorists or their sympathizers who use the libraries to research and plan activities that run contrary to the security of the country rather than the ordinary American citizens. Thus the act goes along way in ensuring that security investigators with federal judges permission can easily obtain library business records. This means that the investigators are not at all interested in the daily lives of the Americans or their library habits; thereby protecting the first Amendment rights of the American citizens.
(John McKay) The issue of investigating library records has always been used to crack various cases in the country. One such case includes the cracking of the murder of Gianni Versace in 1997. In 1988 in Washington, Stella Nickel was convicted of poisoning her husband including poisoning a certain woman with medicine laced with cyanide. The break through in this case was only possible from evidence that were provided by library records. (John McKay) Therefore
“The power to subpoena records of any kind, including library records, business records or financial records, has been a longstanding and fundamental resource in law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct”. (John McKay) It would be foolhardy therefore to dismiss such a powerful investigative tool that has been utilized over the years to investigate more serious crimes like terrorism. Another area that the opponents of this Act point out is the issue that wires taps would be utilized to intimidate and harass other political organizations even though they are peaceful.
This is not true because these investigative tools have been used as the “roving wiretaps” in investigating other numerous ordinary crimes that include racketeering, money laundering and drug related crimes. It is only through the authority of a federal judge that such a facility in the act can be used on a particular suspect. (Lamar S) Wire-tapping is a very effective method of detecting and deterring terrorist activities. Terrorists are changing their tactics on a daily basis and they are becoming more advanced in their terrorism activities.
The increased sophistication plus the expertise that the terrorists have continued to attain has called for better and advanced methods of curbing the upsurge of the crime. (Lamar S) Terrorists to thwart any form of surveillance and investigation change locations and communication devices like cell phones, it would be very difficult therefore to trace and investigate them before they cause any damage. The only choice the law enforcement agencies have is to beat them to their own game through wire-tapping and other forms of surveillance.
Alternatively they can lax on the security measures to satisfy the whims of the critics leading to the loss of life. The country or any other country for that matter cannot allow another September 11 to take place at the expense of a few disgruntled individuals. Nevertheless the wire-tapping is always done only on individuals who are suspected to have terrorist links rather than every law abiding American citizens. Conclusion Many lives were lost during the 9/11 attacks on America; many more were left traumatized and vulnerable and was soon realized that everyone is at risk of attack from the terrorists.
America has one of the best and organized law enforcement agencies in the world yet the terrorists had the capability of taking advantage of the various weaknesses in the security of the country to launch their deadly attack. The security apparatus faced a barrage of criticism from all quarters especially the media for this lapse in security that led to the attack. Previously the agencies lacked the necessary machinery or tools to forestall the activities of the terrorists, they lacked the backing of the law that was silent on even defining terrorism.
America did not realize how vulnerable it was to such attacks and had so much confidence in its superpower image. The attack was a great reawakening to the stark reality of how determined the terrorists are in accomplishing their missions of driving their feelings of displeasure of the US and its allies. The Patriot Act came at a time when the security of the country and its citizens were at stake, it was choosing between protecting of lives and displeasing a few individuals. The public good had to reign supreme!
- John McKay: Patriot Act's tools no different than those used to fight crime: The Seattle Times Company, June 13 2005
- Kevin V. Ryan: Patriot Act Has Major Advantages: The Daily Californian, 31 May 2005: Retrieved on 20th April from http://www.dailycal.org/article.php?id=18771
- Lamar Smith (Congressman): The Patriot Act protects Americans: The Daily Texan Online 28th April 2004